How Hjelle impressed Melvin before Giants hired him as manager

How Hjelle impressed Melvin before Giants hired him as manager originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Bob Melvin took over as manager with a unique perspective on the Giants roster. His San Diego Padres teams faced most of these players the last two seasons, when the division rivals played 32 games against one another.

Melvin's staff spent plenty of time game planning for the likes of Logan Webb, Camilo Doval and Alex Cobb, but the Padres often found themselves flummoxed by a lesser-known Giants pitcher.

Sean Hjelle faced the Padres twice during the 2023 season and allowed just four hits over six shutout innings while striking out six. In his final appearance of the 2022 season, the tall right-hander had the best outing of his MLB career, striking out eight in five shutout relief innings at Petco Park. In three career outings against San Diego, the 26-year-old has 14 strikeouts in 11 shutout innings.

As he tries to win a spot on Melvin's pitching staff this spring, Hjelle doesn't need to make a good impression. He already has.

"Every time I saw him against the Padres it seemed like we had a lead and he would come out there for four innings and we didn't do anything and the next thing you know, it's back to a ballgame," Melvin said. "I think he's a guy that has a really, really good chance to be impactful and (I like) the versatility that he gives us, too."

Melvin mentioned Ryan Walker as another player who stood out from the other dugout. While Walker comes to camp with a stranglehold on a bullpen job, Hjelle is again competing for time. The Giants plan to carry two left-handed relievers and already have Doval, Walker, Tyler Rogers and Luke Jackson from the right side.

Hjelle, who has an option remaining, has been in this position before, and he won a job last season with a huge spring. While he performed well when Melvin was watching, Hjelle wasn't able to lock up consistent playing time. He posted a 6.52 ERA overall, but a 4.22 FIP that indicates there was perhaps some bad luck.

"I'm obviously frustrated that I was up the first month and got the opportunity to pitch some big innings, a couple of them went well and then I kind of got away from my game," Hjelle said. "But I learned a lot from it."

Alyssa Nakken update

One of the most popular members of the organization won't have much time in Scottsdale this spring. Assistant coach Alyssa Nakken became a mother last month and might only be in camp for a day or two later this spring.

Nakken made an impact on her new boss before going on leave, though, organizing a two-day meetup for the revamped staff. She has also taken part in some recent meetings via Zoom, but Melvin said he mostly wants her to focus on spending time with her newborn right now.

Blake Sabol adding versatility

Blake Sabol takes everything in stride, so of course he was just fine with hearing Melvin say that he wants last year's backup catcher to get some reps at first base this spring.

Sabol said he actually took the idea to Melvin during one of their first conversations in the offseason, but at the time the staff wasn't sure what the roster would look like and told him he didn't yet need to start fielding grounders.

The Giants are short on left-handed options behind LaMonte Wade Jr., though, so Sabol will get some work at first base this spring. He said he always has a first base glove with him because he played there in summer ball and a little while growing up, and he occasionally took grounders last year.

Adding more versatility could be huge for a young player who is currently blocked behind the plate by Patrick Bailey and Tom Murphy, but could give the Giants the option to carry a third catcher who can also play left field and first.

New jersey numbers

Newcomer Amir Garrett will be the latest to wear Matt Cain's No. 18. A few lockers away, there's a notable change for a young Giant.

Casey Schmitt lost his No. 6 to his new manager but said he loves his new No. 10 jersey and he didn't even think of asking Melvin for any sort of trade (maybe he can use it for an extra at-bat or two this spring). Melvin smiled when asked about the jersey number.

"It's not like I'm taking Barry's number …" Melvin joked.

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